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Pieces of Eight


Breast Self Exams Studied

By Crystal Baity

Three ECU researchers who have conducted long-term surveys with eastern North Carolina women found that proper breast self examinations are not uniformly understood or practiced.

The findings, published in the July/August 2005 issue of Journal of Women’s Health, are based on surveys of more than 1,000 women from 10 eastern North Carolina counties age 50 and older who report that they routinely examine their breasts for lumps or changes.

The ECU team is composed of Jim Mitchell of the Department of Sociology, Holly Mathews of the Department of Anthropology, and Linda Mayne of the School of Nursing. Their study sought to explore the potential of breast self exam to reduce proportionately higher breast cancer mortality among African American women compared to Caucasians.

Researchers found that Caucasian women were more likely than African American women to report tactile examination of breast tissue with their fingertips to find breast lumps or tumors. Alternatively, African American women were more likely to report examining their breast tissue visually in the absence of tactile examination.

The findings are part of a larger project spanning nine years that tracked changes in mammography use in women age 50 and older, Mitchell said.

“In general, human health behavior is complex and understood best when the perspectives of several researchers from various disciplines are combined,” Mitchell said.

An editorial co-written by Dr. Donald Lannin, former director of the Leo Jenkins Cancer Center of the Brody School of Medicine, accompanies the researchers’ article in the journal. Lannin is now associate director of the Yale-New Haven Breast Center of the Yale University School of Medicine. Lannin points out that although breast cancer incidence is not as high in African American women compared to Caucasian women, breast cancer mortality is higher.

With American women finding almost 70,000 cancers annually through self exam, Lannin said that breast self exam and early detection should continue to be promoted.



This page originally appeared in the Oct. 14, 2005 issue of Pieces of Eight. Complete issue is archived at